Communication Styles of Millennials: Trends & Relevance for the Industry.

AuthorAgarwal, Upasna A.


Organizations today have a dynamic mix of generations as a part of their workforce, with millennials being the largest constituent. A report by Pew Research Center in the year 2015 (Fry, 2015) suggests that in the US itself, there is a 53.5 million strong millennial workforce which continues to grow. In India, it is estimated that by the year 2020, the median individual will be 29 years of age (Shivakumar, 2013). Thus, with millennials dominating the workforce, organizations have the scope of capitalizing on the energy and enthusiasm of the young talent pool.

Millennials, with their spirit, efficiency and affinity for technology bring with them unique insights and skills to the table that managers and organizations can gain from. They are efficient, creative, and most importantly the replacement of the ageing workforce. However, despite these advantages, there are certain challenges that organizations face with the millennials. Communication skill is one such challenge. A survey by Forbes (Savitz, 2012) of Fortune 500 companies suggests that 80% of the surveyed organizations find communication as the most challenging issue at the workplace. Effective communication is the lifeline and at the core of a successful organization (Wyatt, 2006). In fact communication has been identified as one of the key soft skills in today's workplace (Robles, 2012). Several scholars have found that communication influences employees' attitudes and behavior (Thomas, 2009). Communication has been established to be a leading indicator of financial performance (Hartman & McCambridge, 2011). This ultimately results in job satisfaction, commitment and lower turnover intentions (Dasgupta, et al., 2013). Studies on communication within organizations have also focused on group processes (McGrath, 1984), and leader behavior (Penley & Hawkins, 1985). Eventually effective communication would lead to development of a culture that is thriving with positivity (Gudykunst, et al., 1996). In fact research indicates that millennials prefer a culture that fosters communication at the workplace (Gursoy,et al., 2008). Importance of communication as a process can be understood from the research evidence that, between 50 and 90 per cent of a manager's time may be spent communicating (Mintzberg, 1973). Communication is the medium to get the work done, and in this process individuals use different style of communication.

Communication styles are representative of the individuals and in the organizational context understanding the same is equated with learning the organizational culture (Ibrahim & Ismail, 2007). Being aware of one's style of communication not only helps individuals in understanding themselves but also what kind of job and organization would they be suited for (Sekiguchi, 2004). Once an individual is able to identify the right match between the communication style and his/her job aspirations, it establishes a perfect person-job fit. When he/she has a natural flair for his/her job profile, it not only becomes easier but enjoyable as well. This can be established from the fact that self-concept related to role constitutes role identity (Sekiguchi, 2004). Thus, if the occupational role is relatively salient in self-concept, commitment to effective role performance should be strong. In this study our purpose is to understand the trends in communication styles of the millennials vis-a-vis varied demographics. We focus on the classification given by Alessandra & O'Connor (1998) of identifying communication styles of individuals as director, socializer, relater or thinker.

Literature Review

Communication style is defined as a cognitive process that entails micro behavior in order to make a macro level judgment, wherein the attempt is to get literal meaning across one another (Norton, 1983). It establishes how an individual perceives oneself while interacting with others. Communication style consists of verbal and non-verbal messages. Verbal messages include words along with the tone, speech rate, volume and tonality of the voice whereas nonverbal cues range from body language, gestures, posture, eye contact and movements (Raynes, 2001). Together they form an identifiable pattern of verbal and non-verbal behaviors which are distinguishable from the behavioral patterns of different communication styles.

Researchers over the last few decades have classified communication style through multiple approaches, but Norton's (1983) categorization is one of the most widely accepted one. He identified distinctive styles which are reflected in presumed behavioral, affective and cognitive differences. According to him there are ten styles of communication that are used by individuals, namely, dominant, dramatic, contentious, animated, impression-leaving, relaxed, attentive, open, friendly and precise. Another well researched and documented method of classification of communication style is by McCallister (1992). According to her there are broadly three distinct styles of communication; socratic, noble and reflective. Further, significant classification was given by Heffner (1997), constituting of three varying communication styles. These styles were defined as assertive, passive and aggressive.

It is well established that each individual has his/her own unique style of communication that represents him/her (Ibrahim & Ismail, 2007). He/she may use or blend different styles of communication depending on the context and the environment. Within an organization, an individual's style of communication is based on rules, values and norms of the culture of the organization (Gudykunst, et al, 1997).

Classification of communication style that has intrigued us in particular, is given by Alessandra and O'Connor (1998). It emphasizes that understanding one's own style of communication involves comprehending and adjusting our own behavior in order to make others feel more comfortable. It accentuates the fact that one's communication is only as good and effective as his/her understanding of the person he/she is communicating with. If an individual can comprehend the needs of another person on the basis of verbal and non-verbal cues, he/she can accordingly adapt his/her behavior, subsequently leading to beneficial outcomes. However, it is important that an individual is first aware of one's own communication style. It must be noted, that this rule does not propagate manipulation or fake behavior, but proposes to make efforts in actual learning and adaptation for maximum benefits personally and professionally. One does not have to alter basic nature of oneself or one's ideas, but just how they are presented to others. This can prove to be highly effective in business organizations, as success is dependent on the web of relationships one creates and nurtures over a period of time. Although it is natural to be attracted to people who complement our communication style and behavior, this rule can actually help individuals to adjust their style in such a way that it makes people of different styles feel comfortable with each other.

At a personal level, self-awareness with respect to communication style is expected to enhance and enrich job performance, career prospects, and productivity of the individual. Alessandra and O'Connor (1998) classified communication styles into four categories. These are directors, socializers, relaters and thinkers. Directors are natural leaders who are challenge oriented, independent, risk-takers, and decisive. They have a high need for achievement which makes them best suited for jobs that require quick turnarounds and executions like investment bankers and project managers. However, they end up being frustrated if others are unable to keep up to their demanding levels.

Socializers are expressive, fun-loving, outgoing and optimistic individuals who love to be around people and at the center of action. They have a high need for companionship and recognition from other people, which makes them people oriented in decision making. Their energy and fast paced style is best suited for sales and public relations jobs. However, they can be erratic and be easily boring. Relaters are calm, friendly, low key and easy going individuals who seldom show emotional peaks. They crave stability and peace, as a result of which they have a strong...

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